Paramore Hitches Wagon To “Twilight” Star, Crosses Over To Top 40

A band with a charismatic frontwoman attracts a passionate young following, briefly with Contemporary Christian fans and then with a mass audience bewitched by their alternative-but-accessible vibe. While the group attracts certain emo elements and the tattooed-and-pierced set, their straight-up-the-middle pop sensibilities win over radio programmers looking for some femme-friendly rock content. Finally, after a steady build, the attachment of a key single to a preordained hit movie brings them into the Top 40 in a big way.

I’m not the first person to make the connection between Evanescence and Paramore, but the No. 34 Billboard Hot 100 debut of “Decode” from the chart-topping Twilight soundtrack makes it a bit more obvious. It’s Paramore’s highest-ever pop debut, and it finds them embracing the teen-goth subculture.

Evanescence’s Amy Lee could tell Paramore about how lucrative the black-wearing-girl demographic can be. But she also has the 2003 Ben Affleck comic-schlock movie Daredevil to thank for Evanescence’s breakthrough. “Bring Me to Life” probably would’ve been a hit eventually no matter what, but the Hollywood-fueled promotional boost—at a time when modern rock and even top 40 radio were allergic to female-fronted rock songs—didn’t hurt.

The only difference is that Evanescence went the Hollywood route with its first major-label single. One wonders why Paramore didn’t go this way sooner.

To be sure, Paramore’s been doing just fine thus far. Their second album, 2007’s Riot!, went platinum after a long, steady chart run and spawned the Top Five Modern Rock and Top 20 pop hit “Misery Business”; followup single “CrushCrushCrush,” did equally well at Modern Rock and just missed the Top 40. In a dismal music-industry climate, those results are impressive for a new rock act.

But Evanescence’s track record shows how much more cash registers ring when a song really crosses over. “Bring Me to Life” topped the Modern Rock list in March 2003 before making the pop Top Five three months later, and it sold millions of copies of the album Fallen all by itself. The band didn’t even have to release a second single until December 2003, when the album was already certified triple-platinum. That second single, the torch ballad “My Immortal” (which had also been primed by the Daredevil soundtrack), pushed the album past sextuple-platinum.

Ultimately, what made Evanescence a hit act was its carefully cultivated mall-goth-girl vibe, Lee’s diary-entry lyrics, and (duh!) a handful of catchy songs. But the movie connection greased the wheels at male-dominated radio when programmers weren’t guaranteed to open their playlists. At the time of the song’s release, there hadn’t been a woman-fronted song atop the Modern Rock chart in half a decade (since 1998’s Hole track “Celebrity Skin”; things haven’t gotten much better since—Evanescence was the last distaff act to top the list). I doubt anyone fondly recalls Daredevil, the movie or the soundtrack, five years later, but for a few weeks it did its job for Amy Lee’s career.

Ironically, the teen-vampire yarn Twilight is exactly the sort of flick that should have an Evanescence song on it, but Amy Lee’s absence is Hayley Williams’ opportunity. The wiry, spine-tingly “Decode” debuted on the Modern Rock list a month ago and moves into the Top 20 this week. On the Hot 100, it gets a faster start than any of Paramore’s previous singles thanks to first-week iTunes sales of 63,000—it’s already the band’s second-biggest pop hit.

Frankly, “Decode” isn’t as catchy as any of the singles from Riot!, but hype around Twilight is so intense—my local morning-show DJs yammer about it, or heartthrob actor Robert Pattinson, virtually every day—that it’ll probably get a few weeks of guaranteed airplay on teen-heavy audience hours anyway. The soundtrack’s already made an upset debut at No. 1 on the album chart (rare for a movie not yet opened; not even High School Musical 3 pulled that off), and the movie’s opening next weekend can only spell further penetration for Paramore.

The most advantageous thing about a hit soundtrack is that it can tide over a band until their next album, the way “Big Empty” from 1994’s The Crow kept Stone Temple Pilots circling the runway until their smash second disc dropped later that year. Paramore’s next album is reportedly penciled in for summer 2009, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Warner Music spurs the band into pushing it out sooner. Evanescence proved, after their hit sophomore album The Open Door in 2006, that they could wait three years between discs and still sell well; but after another year of double-digit percentage drops in music sales, it’s not 1994 or even 2006 anymore.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:

• If a single falls in the forest and radio isn’t playing it, does it make a sound? The high debuts this week of pre-album singles from Kanye West and Taylor Swift—his second from the forthcoming 808 and Heartbreak, her fifth from next week’s preordained chart-topper Fearless—are case studies in the mismatch between sales and airplay in our new world order.

In an era where iTunes’ Complete My Album feature allows labels to drop singles from forthcoming blockbusters like a trail of breadcrumbs, it’s now commonplace for certain major acts—Lil Wayne, Coldplay, the Jonas Brothers—to score a raft of quick, flashy hits on the Hot 100. But the labels dropping these multiple pre-album tracks don’t necessarily expect to score airplay on more than one or two of them. This week, West and Swift basically represent two different promotional models.

West’s “Heartless” erupts onto the Hot 100 at No. 4, nearly matching the No. 3 debut of “Love Lockdown” two months ago. Sales of more than 200,000—the week’s top digital track—are the catalyst. But unlike some other fast-breaking digital songs, “Heartless” is shaping up as a radio hit, too: it already registers on the lower rungs of the Pop and R&B Airplay lists (No. 67 on the former, No. 61 on the latter). Actually, Kanye’s an old hand at the two-single pre-album model—he did it on all three of his previous discs, each of which was preceded by one modest hit and one No. 1 smash: “Through the Wire” and “Slow Jamz” from The College Dropout; “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “Gold Digger” from Late Registration; and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Stronger” from Graduation. Even in this post-Carter III era, he hasn’t really changed his album setup strategy.

Swift’s model is more akin to what worked so well this past summer for the Jonas Brothers (not surprising, considering who she, until recently, was dating). Sales of more than 170,000 put “You Belong with Me” at No. 12 on the Hot 100, following four other pre-Fearless singles that either debuted in or came close to the Top 10. But at radio, “Belong” does what virtually every pre-album single this year from her has done—no measurable airplay whatsoever, at country radio or anywhere else. That’s because programmers remain focused on just one of those singles, “Love Story,” which moves to No. 1 on the Country list this week.

Not to be too arch, but I would call “Love Story” an actual hit, whereas “Belong” and Swift’s other three short-lived pre-album singles are “hits,” in quotes. All of these tracks have spent an average of three or four weeks on the Hot 100—yet they will go into the chart record books as Top 10 or Top 20 hits. There’s got to be a special category for pseudo-“hits” like that.

• Speaking of ways in which the new music economy is skewing the record books: In his weekly column over at Billboard, Fred Bronson discusses the longevity of Rihanna’s singles-deep album Good Girl Gone Bad, which spawns its eighth Hot 100 hit this week, the No. 91–debuting “Rehab” (no relation to the Amy Winehouse hit). According to Bronson, Ri’s album becomes the first since Shania Twain’s mega-blockbuster Come on Over to spawn this many chart hits. I’ve loved most of the hits from Good Girl, and hey, go Rihanna—but there’s got to be an asterisk on this achievement, too.

Rihanna only amasses this total if you treat both versions of Good Girl as one album. Island Def Jam relaunched it last spring with three new tracks, all of which have made the Hot 100; two were chart-toppers, “Take a Bow” and “Disturbia,” and the third was the flop Maroon 5 duet “If I Never See Your Face Again.” “Rehab” was actually on the original version of the album, which also spawned the initial four hits “Umbrella,” “Shut Up and Drive,” “Hate That I Love You” and “Don’t Stop the Music.” It is impressive that a fifth song from that original lineup made the big chart more than 18 months after the album debuted. But the phenomenon of reissuing hit albums with multiple radio-bound singles is relatively recent, and those three interstitial hits shouldn’t have the same weight in the record books.

• After more than a decade of recording, frat-friendly jam-banders O.A.R. (Of a Revolution) can finally add the designation “Top 40 hitmakers” to their resume. “Shattered (Turn the Car Around),” a ditty that sounds like a leftover from a 1995 Friends soundtrack, creeps up two notches to No. 40 on the Hot 100. Sales and airplay contribute to its chart position in roughly equal measure. It’s the 38th best-selling digital track this week, with 32,000 downloads; and the 53rd most-played song at radio across all genres—after breaking at Triple-A radio since last spring, it’s now a hit at mainstream pop and adult Top 40 stations.

• The first odes to our new President-elect make their Hot 100 debut this week: hologram-friendly with “It’s a New Day” at No. 78, and Young Jeezy’s “My President,” featuring Nas, at No. 92. Only Jeezy’s song makes the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list, debuting at No. 54, but it’s joined there by Seal’s Obama-inspired remake of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” at No. 100. I don’t know if any of these tunes will have the shelf life of, say, “High Hopes”—but let’s not be cynical.

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):

Hot 100 1. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 1, 7 weeks) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 3. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 4. Kanye West, “Heartless” (CHART DEBUT) 5. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 5, 5 weeks) 6. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 3, 12 weeks) 7. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 6, 6 weeks) 8. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks) 9. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 10, 30 weeks) 10. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 9, 7 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. Kanye West, “Heartless” (CHART DEBUT, 201,000 downloads) 2. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 1, 179,000 downloads) 3. Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me” (CHART DEBUT, 172,000 downloads) 4. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 3, 149,000 downloads) 5. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 6, 132,000 downloads) 6. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 4, 132,000 downloads) 7. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 7, 131,000 downloads) 8. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 9, 122,000 downloads) 9. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 8, 118,000 downloads) 10. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 5, 113,000 downloads)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 1, 16 weeks) 2. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 2, 26 weeks) 3. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 3, 17 weeks) 4. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 4, 9 weeks) 5. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 7, 5 weeks) 6. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It,” (LW No. 5, 18 weeks) 7. Lil Wayne feat. Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer” (LW No. 8, 19 weeks) 8. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 6, 28 weeks) 9. Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows” (LW No. 9, 9 weeks) 10. John Legend feat. Andre 3000, “Green Light” (LW No. 12, 12 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks) 2. Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried” (LW No. 3, 21 weeks) 3. Tim McGraw, “Let It Go” (LW No. 4, 17 weeks) 4. Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” (LW No. 1, 18 weeks) 5. Montgomery Gentry, “Roll with Me” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks) 6. Sugarland, “Already Gone” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks) 7. Rascal Flatts, “Here” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks) 8. Brad Paisley with Keith Urban, “Start a Band” (LW No. 10, 9 weeks) 9. Toby Keith, “She Never Cried in Front of Me” (LW No. 5, 20 weeks) 10. Kenny Chesney, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” (LW No. 8, 15 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 1, 16 weeks) 2. Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire” (LW No. 3, 12 weeks) 3. Rise Against, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” (LW No. 4, 12 weeks) 4. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks) 5. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 2, 18 weeks) 6. The Killers, “Human” (LW No. 6, 7 weeks) 7. Shinedown, “Second Chance” (LW No. 13, 8 weeks) 8. Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes” (LW No. 7, 12 weeks) 9. Theory of a Deadman, “Bad Girlfriend” (LW No. 8, 21 weeks) 10. Death Cab for Cutie, “Cath…” (LW No. 10, 11 weeks)

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